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The impact of COVID-19 on eating disorders among Canadian youths

Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario Research Institute

The restrictions associated with the COVID-19 pandemic led to an increase in the number of new cases and healthcare needs for eating disorders among children and youth in Canada. Higher incidence and more severe symptoms resulted in an increase of 21% in health system and wellbeing costs pre and during the COVID-19 pandemic. 


Eating disorders are serious psychiatric illnesses characterised by severe and persistent disturbances in eating behaviours. Despite the serious health complications, only 20% of young people living with an eating disorder seek treatment.

The COVID-19 pandemic increased financial stress, isolation and anxiety – factors known to contribute to the development of eating disorder symptoms such as body image concerns, food restriction and binge eating. The COVID-19 pandemic also created disruptions to public health responses through lockdowns and other social restrictions, which may have impacted the ability for people with eating disorder symptoms to seek help.

The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on costs to young people with eating disorders and their families is not yet well understood. As part of a larger study, the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario Research Institute (CHEO RI) engaged Deloitte Access Economics to study the costs of the COVID-19 pandemic on children and young people (defined as those aged 5 to 25 years) with eating disorders. The report considers the change in health system utilisation from the period immediately prior to the COVID-19 pandemic (FY20) to the periods during/after the COVID-19 pandemic (FY21 and FY22).

The data analysed in this report shows that there was a 60% increase in inpatient hospitalisations from pre to during COVID-19 pandemic. There was a 126% increase in emergency department presentations over the same period. Together, these increases indicate a greater number of children and youth accessing acute health care services for their eating disorders during the pandemic.

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